#BlogTour Will Carver- Hinton Hollow Death Trip “I defy you not to be swept along by this twisty, intelligent, compelling and completely weird book.” @will_carver @OrendaBooks

It’s a small story. A small town with small lives that you would never have heard about if none of this had happened. Hinton Hollow. Population 5,120. Little Henry Wallace was eight years old and one hundred miles from home before anyone talked to him. His mother placed him on a train with a label around his neck, asking for him to be kept safe for a week, kept away from Hinton Hollow. Because something was coming.
Narrated by Evil itself, it recounts five days in the history of this small rural town, when darkness paid a visit and infected its residents. A visit that made them act in unnatural ways. Prodding at their insecurities. Nudging at their secrets and desires. Coaxing out the malevolence suppressed within them. Showing their true selves.

Making them cheat.
Making them steal.
Making them kill.

Detective Sergeant Pace had returned to his childhood home. To escape the things he had done in the city. To go back to something simple. But he was not alone. Evil had a plan…

If I thought that reviewing Will Carver’s previous book Nothing Important Happened Today was damn tricky, it was a walk in the park compared to Hinton Hollow Death Trip which poses infinitely more stumbling blocks to coherent reviewing. As tempted as I am to just say this one freak-ass weird book, which you definitely need to read, that doesn’t really give you much to go on, does it? So dear reader, I feel duty bound to do this properly… cue sharp inhalation of breath and cracking of knuckles…

Centred on a  rural community of 5000+ souls, “a quaint little nowhere,” this is so much more than an everyday tale of small town folk, as Evil walks among them coercing and cajoling these most ordinary of people to behave in ways completely alien to them, and to lay themselves bare to the depraved machinations of this malevolent force. As Evil says, “Fear is my greatest tool. It can be used to make a person do almost anything…It is a slow and deadly poison,” and as he bestrides this small town, gradually infecting and influencing its residents, you are pretty sure from the outset that this will not end well. As Evil recounts a host of horrifying events and disasters, that it has been party to, it blames the small minded, selfish beings that we have become, and through Carver’s examination of our fatuous obsession with social media, our pettiness, narcissism, our destruction of the planet, and cruelties to each other and animals too, you kind of get to thinking that Evil has a point as it observes, “You keep pushing and pushing. Wanting more and more. Listening less and less…Humankind has created evil at a rate that even I cannot keep up with.” 

As with his previous book, I delight in Carver’s diatribes on the sheer bloody uselessness of the majority of human beings, and found myself nodding sagely at some of the more barbed and amusing observations of the human race. very little in modern culture escapes Carver’s microscopic analysis, and this book is full of them. The calorific breakdown of biscuits is, of course, an essential need to know. However, balanced with the more throwaway and blackly funny observations, this book is cut through with the seriousness of our stupidity, and using the trope of Evil to filter this, brings a mixture of thought provoking and poignant meditations on our failings, hopes and how far we would sacrifice ourselves for others. As much as there are individuals in this book pushed into acts of cruelty, Carver never loses sight of their ordinariness, not all of these people are inherently bad, indeed some of them sacrifice themselves quite nobly, but I found it interesting that in some cases, the smallest nudge from Evil really does lead to some quite depraved deeds from where you would least expect it.

Consequently reading this book Carver is playing with and manipulating our emotions from start to finish, and I found this quite fun- I do like a bit of reader participation. An initial perception of a character can be changed in an instant, people you wouldn’t feel sorry for are suddenly made sympathetic, people in similar situations act in different ways, leading you to think what you would do and so on. Obviously some characters are just odious eejits, and your hackles are raised, your indignation aroused, and then someone dies. And then more people die. And then a couple more just for luck. It’s great.  Held together by the first person narration of Evil, as it moves everybody around in a sadistic game of chess, we once again encounter the hangdog and hapless DS Pace still reeling from the events of the previous book. I have a great affection for Pace, so woebegone, so incapable of relating to anyone, but an almost worthy adversary for Evil itself, but can this really end well for him?

As you’ve probably realised, I’ve told you next to nothing about the plot of Hinton Hollow Death Trip, so my own evil plan has worked well. Instead, I would encourage you to read this yourselves, much as I did with not the faintest clue of what would lie ahead. All manner of human life is contained within it, with people behaving badly, bravely, stupidly or nobly. You will gasp, you will laugh, you will quizzically wrinkle your brow, you will ponder the dark inner workings of Carver’s brain, but I defy you not to be swept along by this twisty, intelligent, compelling and completely weird book.

(With thanks to Orenda Books for the ARC)

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Blog Tour- Rod Reynolds- Black Night Falling

Black Night FallingHaving left Texarkana for the safety of the West Coast, reporter Charlie Yates finds himself drawn back to the South, to Hot Springs, Arkansas, as an old acquaintance asks for his help. This time it’s less of a story Charlie’s chasing, more of a desperate attempt to do the right thing before it’s too late…

The Dark Inside from debut author Rod Reynolds, was based loosely on the events surrounding The Texarkana Moonlight Murders of 1946, where young couples were singled out at a local courting spot and brutally attacked. The Texarkana Phantom, as the killer was dubbed, killed five people and assaulted three more, but evaded apprehension, with the killings stopping as quickly as they had begun. With this as the central premise for the story,  Reynolds took us on an atmospheric, clever, and entirely plausible trip into a small community racked by fear and suspicion. Black Night Falling picks up the story just a few months on from the harrowing events of the first book featuring stoic reporter Charlie Yates, and there is more darkness in store…

Once again, Reynolds completely immerses us in the world of 1940’s America, incorporating insights into the American psyche, and referencing returning servicemen from World War II. Reynolds’ attention to the detail of the period is again completely on song, and the intense heat of his chosen location of Texas shimmers and scorches alongside the emotional intensity of Yates’ troublesome investigation. Particularly effective is Reynolds’ depiction of this small community of Hot Springs, with its local commerce being driven by corrupt local figures, and the mostly illegal activities of gambling and prostitution, allowing him to insinuate real life gangster figures into the plot, that are immediately recognisable to the reader. Also by placing Yates in this inward looking and suspicious community, it allows us to acknowledge for ourselves, the frustration and danger that he encounters in his search for the truth behind his friend’s untimely end.

Charlie Yates, our dogged reporter is once again bestowed with a real core of morality, and again Reynolds makes full use of his  character pivoting between outspoken arrogance to moments of extreme self doubt and emotional vulnerability. As in The Dark Inside, Yates must use all his guile and powers of investigation to navigate his way between local law enforcement, the press, and the mayoral head honcho, assimilating, disregarding, or challenging their versions of events at no mean danger to himself. As much as Yates is fed false leads or incomplete information, we as readers are also constantly questioning the veracity of the information he receives, and playing the who’s the good guy, who’s the bad guy, game as the plot progresses. With Yates being so firmly front and centre of the plot, Reynolds’ cast of supporting characters are something of a conduit or mirror for his actions, but there is a good array of ne’er-do-wells, tarts with hearts, unlikely good guys, and a thoroughly pernicious killer at the heart of the story to keep you hooked. Admittedly, I am still a little unconvinced by the depiction of Yates’ personal life, and the slightly clichéd drawing on this in the plot to manipulate Yates’ actions, however, when book focuses purposefully on Yates’ dogged determination to track a killer and expose corruption, Reynolds keeps a realistic and tight rein of the unfolding plot. With The Dark Inside and Black Night Falling being so closely interlinked, Reynolds does endeavour to reference the first book in the second as Yates’ investigation has the overarching echo and ramifications of previous events, but I would urge you to read both books in quick succession, to fully appreciate the symbiosis of the two books, as sometimes the links between the two lose a little of their power in the reliance on sporadic back story.

When I reviewed The Dark Inside I said I was delighted to hear that there was a sequel in the offing, and more than happy to say that Reynolds has come up trumps again. Read both- you won’t be disappointed.

(With thanks to Faber for the ARC)

 

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Sam Millar- Black’s Creek

samA young boy drowns in a tragic accident in a lake in upstate New York. Fourteen-year-old year old Tommy and his two friends are sure they know who drove him to take his own life: the boy’s father is also convinced and pressurises the local Sheriff, Tommy’s father, to make an arrest. But there is not enough evidence, and the boys decide to take things into their own hands.

When you begin to review a book with the phrase, “How the hell have I not read this author before?” you know you may be on to a bit of a winner. Such is my reaction to this recent discovery of Sam Millar, a comparatively old hand in the crime fiction genre having already released six novels and a memoir, is a regular contributor to anthologies, writes for stage/radio and also holds a number of literary awards. With a highly colourful background himself, accrued from his formative years in Northern Ireland, and his personal involvement with both the IRA and a $7.4million heist from the Brink’s Armored Car Depot in Rochester, New York, Millar has been a bit of a welcome find…

With its central storyline based in a small town community in upstate New York and focusing on a group of three teenage boys, comparisons to Stephen King’s Stand By Me (one of my favourites) are justified to a certain degree, as this coming of age tale had me hooked from the outset. This small town has been brought to the edge of fear, by violent sexual attacks on local teens, with Millar focusing on the atmosphere of fear and suspicion that these have wrought. The book is narrated in the first person by Tommy (the book being bracketed by himself as an adult) recounting the events in the small community in which he grew up, as the son of the local Sheriff. Following the suicide of a young boy, Joey, himself a victim, three teenage boys, Tommy, Brent and Charlie, make a blood-brother pact, to exert their own retribution on local man, Norman Armstrong, who has been tried, but not convicted of Joey’s attack. Tommy, also experiences the added complication of a fledgling relationship with local girl, Devlin, from the wrong side of the tracks, which leads to its own heartbreak for our young crusader. The characterisation of Tommy and his cohorts is absolutely spot-on with all the attendant naivety, rivalry and angst that accompanies their teenage selves. All three are from differing backgrounds, and Millar captures the intrinsic differences of their familial backgrounds superbly, including the underlying tensions of Tommy’s parents, the welcoming attentions of Brent’s flirtatious mother, the more well-to-do status of Charlie’s family and Devlin’s peculiar artistic upbringing. The interplay and dialogue between the boys in particular, is completely engaging in their mission (influenced by their love of superhero comics) to exact revenge on the altogether creepy Armstrong, despite the danger and family strife that arise from their actions. I also loved the understated effect of the lawful investigation on Tommy’s father, in the glare of publicity. His descent into despair, caused by the pressure of the case, is gradually revealed, as his son blunders on regardless, fuelled by the impetuosity of youth, seemingly unaware of the effects of this investigation as a whole, close to home.

This is a real read-in-one sitting book as the slowly escalating sense of peril and Millar’s descriptive prowess, both of characters and location, keep you immersed in the events of this small but multi-faceted community. There is a brilliant build-up of tension, offset by the powerful dynamics of friendship and family that Millar brings to bear on the story. Millar pulls no punches in his depiction of the violence that permeates the attacks, with the more violent interludes in the book being perfectly placed, so the details of these and their ramifications for the community at large, become more vital. I did feel the ending was a little rushed, in comparison to the pace of the rest of the book, but taking into account what had gone before that was of little consequence. Highly recommended and an author that I will unquestionably seek out again.

(With thanks to Brandon Books for the ARC)